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The Toronto Raptors didn’t just hang around with the Golden State Warriors. The Raptors blitzed them with a balanced scoring attack on the way to a 118-109 win
TORONTO, Ont. - The first half was almost over, and the fans at Scotiabank Arena started chanting for Danny Green.
A week ago, this seemed about as likely as Toronto fans cheering for LeBron James, or Donald Trump, or Brad Marchand.
Green hadn’t just lost his shot in the Eastern Conference Finals, he had seemingly locked it in a box and thrown it to the bottom of the sea. He hadn’t made a three-pointer since Game 3 of that series, and shot 17 per cent from distance in the conference finals. A good chunk of the Raptors fan base was desperately hoping he would miss the team bus on the way to the arena for the NBA Finals.
And so, when he drilled his second three-pointer of the first half, with a Golden S
tate Warrior up and contesting the shot right in front of him, giving the Raptors a 10-point lead before the break, the arena started serenading him with DAN-NY, DAN-NY chants.
It was that kind of celebration. Goofy, delirious, probably a little drunk.
It was a celebration that lasted all night. The Toronto Raptors didn’t just hang around with the Golden State Warriors, the team that has won three of the last four NBA championships. The Raptors took it to the champs, blitzing them with a balanced scoring attack on the way to a 118-109 win in Game 1 of the last playoff series of the year. This was the Raptors coming into their own, blossoming on the sport’s biggest stage after upsetting Milwaukee in the last round. Five Raptors scored in double digits, led by Pascal Siakam’s 32, which came in all kinds of ways and with all kinds of circus shots.
More importantly, the Toronto defence that had overwhelmed the Bucks in the later stages of the conference finals showed up again, forcing 17 Golden State turnovers and preventing the second-half runs that had powered them through the Western conference.
By the time Fred VanVleet banked in a desperation heave as the shot clocked expired, with a ball that circled the rim before dropping to give the Raptors a 12-point lead with about three minutes to go, the partying in the stands was going full-throttle.
“It was pretty crazy in here tonight,” said Kyle Lowry, who had an off shooting night but chipped in nine assists and six rebounds. “We’ve got the best fans in the NBA and they’re just showing it every single night. We really appreciate it.”
The party, if we’re honest, has been going on for a few days now, since the Raptors did the semi-unthinkable and dusted the Milwaukee Bucks in four straight games to book their first spot in a Finals. Former Raptors have descended on Toronto for screen time, the players and executives who were here in the early days, 24 years ago, have been asked to wax poetically about the olden days and the awful dinosaur logo. Car dealer and superfan Nav Bhatia has been on television in what seems like a constant loop, as the team’s unofficial ambassador was on Good Morning America on Thursday morning. Meanwhile, the team’s official ambassador, Drake, was still grinning away at courtside, resplendent in his vintage Dell Curry jersey, even though he had been chided by the NBA to cool it a little with the sideline hijinks.
And outside the arena, fans started lining up in the dark of early Thursday morning to get a shot at entering Jurassic Park, the viewing area outside the stadium. They came wearing jerseys of many colours, and bearing homemade signs, and generally seeming far too pleased at the prospect of standing outside for more than 12 hours as they waited to watch a piece of history unfold inside, on big screens outside.
But, happiness was the theme of the day. There were viewing parties all over Ontario, with the burb of Mississauga claiming a crowd of 20,000 in their square, which is more people than were inside the arena in downtown Toronto. And in that arena, the cheers and chants broke out long before tip-off, with the whole of the building feeling like it was engaged in a cathartic exercise to cleanse the bad feelings from previous playoff failures, plus the two decades or so of mostly ignominious play before that. The Toronto Raptors were in the Finals, and people were going to enjoy it, by golly.
That mood did not change much as the game got underway. Golden State, a terrifying buzzsaw of a team that had won six straight playoff games coming into the night, gave the Raptors a quick taste of the challenge they present when Steph Curry blitzed them for 11 early points. But the Raptors were up to the challenge. With neither Kawhi Leonard nor Lowry shooting the ball particularly well, it was another start in which Other Raptors stepped up, as had been the trend to close the conference finals. Pascal Siakam scored in a dizzying variety of ways, Marc Gasol pumped in 14 first-half points, Fred VanVleet continued to show that fatherhood agreed with him, and even Green made some buckets. The arena greeted these scores with thunderous cheers, the elation of a fan base that still couldn’t believe it was at these heights.
“I think for us we just, we know the team we’re playing, we’re playing an amazing team,” said Siakam, who shot a remarkable 14-of-17 on the night, with eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. “They’re the champions and we just got to be ready, we got to be ready. We won Game 1.”
Even the stuff that normally gets the crowd riled up didn’t much bother them. When Draymond Green flopped under the basket to draw an offensive foul call on Siakam, after receiving the mildest of space-clearing forearms from the gangly Raptor, no one even started a “Ref, You Suck” chant, which could be counted on to be reliably shouted before the first quarter was out in every other playoff game this season. Eventually, once the heady joy of being in the Finals wore off, the crowd managed to get annoyed as various Raptors got themselves into foul trouble.
But the angst did not last. The Raptors and their fans came to host an NBA Finals party on Thursday night, and not even the Golden State Warriors could stop them.
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- STEVE SIMMONS: Raptors’ Game 1 win will be remembered forever
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